Plain sailing from Ireland to France with Brittany Ferries’ Cork-Roscoff route

We have taken a lot of ferry trips to and from the continent. Brittany Ferries’s Cork-Roscoff route is one of our favourites, particularly for the outbound trip. In this post we describe what makes this trip stand out from the crowd.

The onboard experience is very … French

Brittany Ferries is a French company. This doesn’t mean it’s French owned. No. Well actually it is French owned but that’s not what I’m getting at. When you step foot on the ferry you are on a French run ship. French is the first language. The ship is decorated to reflect it’s home country. The staff are French. All of this French-ness is important as that the ship functions like an extension of France and as a result much of the typical French sensibilities carry over to the ferry. When you travel on this ferry you might need to get something to eat or drink. It would seem that the ethos onboard is that everyone needs to eat and pass the time so the restaurant’s and bars are there more as a service than a money-maker. As an example a wine or beer on board when we last travelled (June 22) was approximately €4 while in Ireland €6 would be common. Brittany Ferries could easily exploit the fact that we have nowhere else to go and set their prices to match, or even exceed, Irish prices but they don’t. The same is true for the restaurant which serves good quality canteen food. Kids meals are not only child sized portions but are priced to reflect the fact that kids need to eat and that parents shouldn’t be exploited. Unfortunately I forgot to take note of it at the time but I think a kids meal was about €7. Along with the meal the kids got a holiday backpack with a colouring/guide book about France, a recyclable bottle (to reduce pollution) and a couple of trinkets; a really nice thoughtful addition for the kids.

Getting to the ferry and boarding

We specifically selected the Saturday crossing from Cork as thiis particular crossing was scheduled to arrive in the town of Roscoff at 7am. For us this is perfect. It means we arrive in France so early that we just need to get out of bed, grab a quick bite to eat and head to the car decks. This is in contrast to most of the other ferry offerings that land just before noon. The other advantage of this crossing is that it arrives on a Sunday when commercial traffic is typically lighter (see our article on driving in France for more info about this).

Tip: Port of Cork has four different locations (Cork, Tivoli, Cobh and Ringaskiddy) so make sure you type the correct one into your sat nav if you’re using one to set your route.

The ferry crossing leaves from Port of Cork ferry terminal in Ringaskiddy. When travelling to the port we had allowed extra time for stoppages but even the roadworks at the Dunkettle interchange didn’t slow things down too much so if you are approaching from the M8 side of the city (as we were) traffic doesn’t seem to be an issue at this time of the week (around 13:00 on a Saturday). After a quick stop to top up the diesel tank at what we think might be the last petrol station before the ferry we arrived at the port two hours before scheduled departure. The port is relatively quiet so the holiday feeling set in as soon as we arrive at check in.

Tip: Brittany Ferries don’t generally provide electrical hook-up to keep your fridge going so make sure you phone ahead to ask about it if you need to keep meals cool in your fridge while your vehicle is below decks.

Depending on the ferry, your vehicle type can place you in a specific phase of the boarding plan. We were travelling by motorhome and in the case of this ferry we were in luck as motorhomes were boarded first so we were onboard within 15 minutes of arriving at the port. While we were in the lane waiting to board the familiar sight of holiday makers stretching their legs by walking up and down between the rows of parked cars made it feel even more relaxing. Once we had boarded we grabbed our ferry bags and headed for the accommodation. As there are six of us we had two rooms (a 2 and a 4 berth) which were located on separate decks and the location we were parked in was not located near the closest stairs to our accommodation so it took a while to locate both rooms and get our bearings but we figured it out. This is different to Irish Ferries who seemed, by accident or design, to have our accommodation located close to our vehicle stairs making for an easier boarding and exit experience. We had gone for the budget option so no television in the rooms but the kids were kitted out with iPads so they had plenty onboard to keep them entertained.

Onboard Facilities

We sailed on the Pont Aven which is classified as a ‘Cruise-Ferry’ by the company. It has the typical range of entertainment for children such as an arcade area and activities in the lounge. We headed to the lounge after boarding. As we had a couple of hours to wait before departure we got settled in, took a few holiday snaps and let the kids explore the lounge area. On the Pont Aven the lounge area covers two decks and is known as ‘Le Grand Pavois’ bar. Immediately beside this on the upper level is ‘Les Finisteres’ pool bar. We have travelled on this ferry maybe four times now but have not yet seen the pool in action; generally it is drained down and the bar is not generally open either. That said I’m not sure if having the pool or it’s associated bar open would be much of an advantage on a short overnight crossing. The pool bar can be a nice place to get away from the noise of the main bar while still remaining close enough to grab a drink and hear what’s going on.

The restaurant facilities are already described but what we should also mention is that you should expect to queue around peak meal times – especially when the restaurant opens. The restaurant seating clears relatively quickly and the queue dies down after 30-40 minutes so if you can wait until the queue shortens you won’t need to spend too much time in line. The facilities for eating are upmarket canteen style and well suited to their purpose. Nothing to gripe about here.

The crossing

The crossing was pretty unremarkable and this has been the case any time we have taken this ship. Whether we were lucky with the weather or the ships stabilisers are particularly effective we haven’t had a rough crossing yet. The cabins are quiet and we all slept well. Choosing the inside cabins was partially a budget consideration but it also meant that the cabins remained in near total darkness which helped everyone sleep soundly.

The morning we were due to dock the cabin radio-alarm started to sound at 6am French time (5am Irish time) and went off every ten minutes thereafter. Being a little disoriented by the time change meant I still can’t be sure that I wasn’t woken earlier than 6am but there was no chance of us sleeping in. We grabbed something quick for breakfast and before 7 we were notified to head below decks to get ready to disembark. Once again the loading sequence seemed to favour us as the motorhomes were among the first to disembark.

Disembarkation and the onward journey

Not something that Brittany Ferries have a lot of control over but the journey out of the ferry and onwards is part of the rationale for selecting a particular crossing and this is again an area where Roscoff does not disappoint. The port is relatively quiet when the ship arrives so clearing customs and immigration is very straightforward – as long as you remember to have the kids ready at the windows for the customs officers to check against their passports. After that you are only about 500m from the town of Roscoff which is a nice town to spend a bit of time in or you are about 25km from the dual carriageway (N12) that will take you to Rennes and from there onwards to Normandy, Paris, the west coast or beyond.

Despite the early arrival time the local wine suppliers know their crowd and open up early on ferry days so if you happen to be in the form for an early morning wine shop there’s plenty of selection on your way out of Roscoff. We have yet to do a wine-shop on the outward journey but often stop on the return journey to bring a few bottles home. As a general rule we tend to look out for and stop at the Red Bus but there are a number of other suppliers in the area too.

For us, at the moment, Brittany Ferries Cork-Roscoff route is the best way to start our holiday. It is comfortable, has a schedule that suits the way we like to travel and utilises two ports that are quieter than some of the others on offer. While not everyone will have the same holiday plans as us I can’t imagine it being a bad option for anyone looking to take a ferry from Ireland to France.